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Expert Perspective

News, research and market insights from our team of experts.

e.Insight

Current Issue | September 14, 2017

Ten Protective Steps to Address the Equifax Breach

By: Julia Weaver, J.D., Director, Family Office Services & The Trust Company of Oxford


Along with 143 million Americans, you may be a victim of one of the worst information security breaches in our history. As is now common knowledge, the Equifax breach is expansive not only in the number of affected persons, but also in the nature of compromised information. From social security numbers, dates of birth, credit card numbers and even documents used in credit dispute proceedings, fraudsters have sufficient information to cause extreme financial damage to your family.

The following are ten recommended action items, some to act upon immediately and others for long term monitoring. The impact of this breach could even extend to the filing of tax returns. We recommend taking not just one, but multiple protective measures.

1. Assume you were affected.
While Equifax has a dedicated website to check your status, there are reported instances of unreliable results being generated. Equifax is, however, offering credit file monitoring and identity theft insurance of up to $1 million through its TrustedID Premier program. Further information can be obtained at equifaxsecurity2017.com.

2. Consider an immediate credit freeze.
This allows you to restrict access to your credit report, making it more difficult for fraudsters to compromise your identity. However, a freeze may prevent even you from opening any new credit unless certain other measures are taken, such as a temporary removal of the freeze. Also, a freeze will not prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts. A freeze is initiated directly with each of the credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and, ironically, Equifax), through the following phone numbers or websites:

3. As an alternative, consider placing a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report.
A fraud alert allows creditors to get a copy of your credit report, but they must take additional steps and have additional information to verify your identity before attempting to open new credit. Initiating a fraud alert with just one of the credit reporting agencies will be effective for all three agencies.

4. Change online passwords to all financial accounts and to your email.
Once a fraudster gains access to an account, they typically test any procured passwords against all of your other accounts. We realize that changing online passwords to all of your financial accounts and email is an onerous process at best. However, committing to this action now may avoid years of painstaking remedial actions in the event of identity theft.

5. Obtain updated credit reports for each member of your family and from each of the credit reporting agencies (the information can vary).
This includes credit reports for your minor children, as fraudsters can bank this information for later use when your children attain majority. A credit report is available at AnnualCreditReport.com free of charge. Review your credit reports thoroughly and regularly for any suspicious activity.

6. Check your debit and credit card activity daily.
The earlier suspicious activity is detected, the greater the opportunity to minimize damage.

7. Do not open any unsolicited emails from “Equifax” unless you have recently created an account.
They claim they will not be sending any emails concerning the breach. Hence, an unsolicited email from Equifax is likely a scam.

8. Be on the look-out for phishing calls, unknown emails or any suspicious solicitations.
Avoid opening attachments or unknown links contained in emails and never give out personal information over the phone.

9. Never send personal or financial information by unsecured email.
Do not allow any advisor to send you personal or financial information unless through secure email. This is an activity prone to complacency, but email data theft and trafficking will remain at a heightened risk for the foreseeable future.

10. Last but certainly not least, win the race to the IRS! File your taxes as early as possible.
In light of the nature of information compromised, fraudsters have sufficient information to file a return in your name and to claim your refund. Open any written mailed communications from the IRS immediately and engage a professional advisor if it appears any suspicious filings have occurred.

Many identity and data theft prevention services are available to supplement your own prevention efforts. A link from the Federal Trade Commission has additional steps for identity theft prevention. See https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft. Your Oxford team of advisors look forward to assisting you in determining what measures and protective actions are appropriate for your unique situation.

The above commentary represent the opinions of the author as of 9.14.17 and are subject to change at any time due to market or economic conditions or other factors.